Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD!
Verses 1-3. - A FURTHER WARNING AGAINST SEEKING THE ALLIANCE OF EGYPT. This prophecy seems to be quite independent of the last (Isaiah 30:1-7). It may have been given earlier or later. The chief point brought out, which had not distinctly appeared previously, is the value set on the horses and chariots of Egypt in the conflict with Assyria (comp. 2 Kings 18:24). Verse 1. - Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help (comp. Isaiah 30:1, 2; and see also the earlier prophecy, Isaiah 20:2-6). The examples of Samaria, Gaza, and Ashdod might well have taught the lesson of distrust of Egypt, without any Divine warnings (see G. Smith's 'Eponym Canon,' pp. 125-131). But the Jews were infatuated, and relied on Egypt despite her previous failures to give effective aid. And stay on horses. The Assyrian cavalry was very numerous, and very efficient. It is often represented on the monuments. Egyptian cavalry, on the other hand, is not represented at all; and it may be questioned whether, in the early times, the Egyptian war-horses were not entirely employed in the chariot-service (see 'Pulpit Commentary' on Exodus, p. 321). The later dynasties of Egyptian kings, however, employed cavalry, as appears from 2 Chronicles 12:3; Herod., 2:162; 'Records of the Past,' vol. it. pp. 68, 70, 72, etc. And trust in chariots, because they are many. The large number of the chariots maintained by the Pharaohs is abundantly evidenced. Diodorus assigns to Sesostris twenty-seven thousand (1. 54, § 4). This is, no doubt, an exaggeration; but the six hundred of the Pharaoh of the Exodus (Exodus 14:7), and even the one thousand two hundred of Shishak(2 Chronicles 12:3) are moderate computations, quite in accord with the monuments, and with all that we otherwise know of Egyptian warfare. Egypt exported chariots to the neighboring countries (1 Kings 10:29), and was at this time the only power which seemed capable of furnishing such a chariot-force as could hope to contend on tolerably even terms with the force of Assyria. They look not unto the Holy One of Israel (comp. Isaiah 30:11, 12). The trust in the Egyptian alliance was accompanied by a distrust of Jehovah and his power, and a disinclination to look to him for aid.
Yet he also is wise, and will bring evil, and will not call back his words: but will arise against the house of the evildoers, and against the help of them that work iniquity.
Verse 2. - Yet he also is wise. Intense irony. "Wisdom is not wholly confined to the human counselors whose advice Judah follows (Isaiah 29:14). He (Jehovah) is 'wise' too, and could give prudent counsel if his advice were asked." As he is not consulted, he will bring evil upon his people, and will not call back, or retract, his words of threatening, but will give them accomplishment, by rising up against the house of the evil-doers (i.e. the Jews), and their help (i.e. the Egyptians).
Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.
Verse 3. - Now the Egyptians are men, and not God. Judah relied on Pharaoh, as on a sort of God, which indeed he was considered in his own country ('Records of the Past,' vol. 6. p. 145, I. 320; p. 148, 1.418, etc.). Isaiah asserts the contrary in the strongest way: the Egyptians, one and all, are men - mere men; and "there is no help in them" (Psalm 146:3). Their horses flesh, and not spirit. The horses, on which so much reliance was placed, were mere animals, subject to all the weakness of the animal nature, not spirit-horses, with a life and vigor of their own, by which they could be a real tower of strength to those on whose side they ranged themselves. They all shall fail together; i.e. the helpers and the helped (compare the concluding clauses of ver. 2).
For thus hath the LORD spoken unto me, Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey, when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof.
Verses 4-9. - A PROMISE OF PROTECTION, AND OF THE DISCOMFITURE OF ASSYRIA. In the promise of protection (vers. 4, 5) there is nothing new but the imagery, which is of remarkable beauty. The promise is followed by a brief exhortation (vers. 6, 7); and then the discomfiture of Assyria is declared in the plainest terms, and her flight before the avenging sword of God (vers. 8, 9). Verse 4. - Like as the lion, etc. The resemblance of this simile to Hem., 'Iliad,' 18:11. 161, 162, has been often noticed. In both, the lion has seized his prey, and is crouching over it; the shepherds gather themselves together against him, and seek to scare him away; but he remains firm, undaunted by their threats and cries, never for a moment relinquishing the body of which he has made himself the master. The image is best explained as representing Jehovah, standing over and keeping guard on Jerusalem, which he will allow, no one to rend from him. And the young lion; rather, even the young lion (Lowth). A single animal must be intended. Roaring on his prey; rather, growleth over his prey. So shall the Lord of hosts come down to fight for Mount Zion; rather, so shall the Lord of hosts descend, to fight, on Mount Zion. If we connect the concluding words of the clause with tsaba, to fight, the meaning must be "fight against," as Delitzsch shows conclusively. But we may connect them with the more distant yered, will descend, in which case they will mean "on," or "upon Mount Zion" (comp. Exodus 19:18; Psalm 133:3). The best commentators are of opinion that this must be the sense. The words are a promise, not a threat.
As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it.
Verse 5. - As birds flying; rather, as birds hovering, or fluttering, ever their young, to protect them. A second simile, expressive of tenderness, as the former one was of power and strength. Defending, also, etc. Translate, defending and delivering, passing over and preserving. In the word "passing over" there seems to be a reference to the institution of the Passover, when the angel, sometimes identified with Jehovah himself, "passed ever" and spared the Israelites.
Turn ye unto him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.
Verse 6. - Turn ye unto him. Then, at any rate, if not before, turn to him who will have delivered you from so great a peril. "Turn to him, O children of Israel, from whom men have so deeply revolted." The third person is used instead of the second, out of tenderness, not to hurt their feelings by mingling with promise an open rebuke.
For in that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you for a sin.
Verse 7. - For in that day every man shall cast away his idols. "In that day" - the day of Assyria's discomfiture - shall the vanity of idols be seen and recognized. They have not helped Assyria. How should they help Judah (comp. Isaiah 30:22)?
Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him: but he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall be discomfited.
Verse 8. - Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; rather, and Assyria shall fall by the sword of one who is not a man Assyria's destruction will not be by the visible swords of human enemies, but by the invisible sword of God (comp. 2 Kings 19:35). And the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him; rather, and the sword of one who is not a mortal shall detour him - an instance of "synonymous parallelism." He shall flee; more literally, betake himself to flight. His young men shall be discomfited; rather, as in the margin, shall be for tribute. They shall become the vassals of a foreign power.
And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign, saith the LORD, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.
Verse 9. - And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear; rather, and his Rock shall pass away for fear (marginal rendering). It is generally agreed by recent commentators (Kay, Delitzsch, Cheyne), that the rock intended, which is contrasted with the "princes" of the next clause, is Assyria's king (see the contrast of the king, who is "a great rock," and his princes, in Isaiah 32:1, 2). (On the hurried flight of Sennacherib to Nineveh, see below, Isaiah 37:37.) His princes shall be afraid of the ensign. The word nes, ensign, seems to be here used collectively. The Assyrian princes would tremble at every signal that they saw displayed along their line of route, expecting some enemy to fall upon them. His furnace. Jehovah was at once a Light to his people, and "a consuming Fire" (Hebrews 12:29) to his enemies. His presence, indicated by the Shechinah in the holy of holies, was at once for blessing and for burning.